Bristle Worms

Class: Polychaeta

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Some bristle worm species burrow or build permanent tube “homes” in mud flats along the shoreline, while others move freely throughout the shoreline and shallow waters, sometimes building tubes and burrows that they return to.

  • Range

    Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

  • Diet

    Feed on plankton and other bits of organic matter

  • Status

    Stable

Bristle worms are soft, segmented worms found along shorelines, mud flats and shallow waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

Appearance

More than 110 species of bristle worms have been recorded in the Chesapeake Bay. Some of these species include: bloodworms, Glycera spp., the common clamworm, Neanthes succinea, the capitellid threadworm, Heteromastus filiformis, the freckled paddle worm, Eteone heteropoda, red-lined worms, Nephtys spp., the common bamboo worm, Clymenella torquata, and the trumpet worm, Pectinaria gouldii.

Bristle worms have soft, segmented bodies with tiny, hair-like bristles along each side. The bristles are attached to appendages called parapodia. Each body segment has one pair of parapodia, which vary in shape depending on the species. Most worms have a head with eyes, antennae and sensory palps.

Feeding

Bristle worms eat plankton and other bits of organic matter such as algae and dead organisms. Tube-building worms have specialized appendages to help them gather food.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Most bristle worms reproduce by releasing eggs and sperm into the water, though some bristle worms reproduce asexually by budding. Larvae morph from a free-swimming stage to a segmented stage before maturing. A few bristle worm species take care of their young. 

Did You Know?

  • Bristle worms are related to leeches and earthworms.
  • They are also known as polychaetes. The class name polychaeta means “many hairs,” referring to the worms’ numerous bristles.
  • Many bristle worms break apart easily when handled. They are able to regenerate the lost or damaged parts.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    Some bristle worm species burrow or build permanent tube “homes” in mud flats along the shoreline, while others move freely throughout the shoreline and shallow waters, sometimes building tubes and burrows that they return to.

  • Range

    Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

  • Diet

    Feed on plankton and other bits of organic matter

  • Status

    Stable